The last couple of days have been filled with drama at the UN, and yet there was nothing really surprising in any of the speeches that were made.
We’ll start with the other speeches first (not necessarily in chronological order) and then get to Netanyahu’s.
President Obama, on the surface, said all the right things. However a slightly longer look at his words reveal the facileness of his thinking and his detachment from the realities of the Middle East. Prof. Barry Rubin is most scathing about the speech:
If one listened to Obama’s speech, one would think that this was a man who gave strong support to the opposition in Iran and to the moderate democratic forces struggling in Lebanon and Egypt (most U.S.-backed programs to help organize politically in Egypt went to the Muslim Brotherhood) and who backed those fighting for a Syria that isn’t an Islamist dictatorship.
Not at all. He has done virtually nothing for those forces. Nor has his government really done anything material to protect the rights of women and Christians in the Middle East. When he says, “Those are the men and women that America stands with; theirs is the vision we will support,” it has no relationship with reality.
For example, Obama said:
Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision — a Syria that is united and inclusive; where children don’t need to fear their own government, and all Syrians have a say in how they are governed — Sunnis and Alawites; Kurds and Christians. That is what America stands for; that is the outcome that we will work for.
Meanwhile, his government is overseeing programs that distribute arms to either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists. It organized a Syrian opposition council dominated by the Brotherhood. It is guaranteeing a Syria in which Alawites and Christians will be massacred; in which Kurds will face an assault on their region; and which will not be united, inclusive, or non-scary for children.
As I have said, there are many fine sentiments expressed on Iran, Israel-Palestinian issues, economic development, minority rights, religious equality, and freedom of speech. Yet these points have no relationship with what this president has actually done in the Middle East. For example, he has not made a single effective action, backed by real power and pressure, to defend the rights of women or Christians, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States had military forces and potentially effective influence.
I recommend you read it all.
Yisrael Hayom also damned Obama with faint praise:
Obama’s speech could be characterized as “okay,” but it contained “no news.” As expected in an election year, his words heralded no breakthroughs and no admissions of mistakes. “Red lines” were not included in his speech, although he did reiterate that the U.S. must prevent the nuclearization of Iran. This was important, although it had been said before. But what measures will be taken to achieve this? On what schedule? Under what conditions? Obama kept his cards close to his chest. There were no surprises, no breakthroughs and no disappointments. What was will be, and another year has passed.
The Iranian nuclear issue is still at the center of world affairs. It has not been removed from the agenda. But there also has not been the injection of a sense of urgency, which is needed because another significant period of time has passed.
How Obama is coping with the problems of the Arab Spring is another important issue. Again, he said everything expected of a politician during an election year. He expressed contempt for the slanderers of the Prophet Muhammad, but also said that those rushing to defend Muhammad’s honor should also defend Christian values and stand against the denial of the Jewish Holocaust.
The year 2012 saw a worsening of attitudes toward the U.S. by many Muslims in Arab countries and the degradation of the U.S.’s ability to lead the world. There was nothing in Obama’s speech that restored to his country its deterrent power. Obama’s words sounded more like those of a Christian preacher than the world’s policeman.
Obama is preoccupied with his election, and his speech sounded as if he was doing the bare minimum required, as if foreign affairs are not what concern him right now, for better or for worse.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech unsurprisingly lived down to its expectations, with threats and rude epithets aimed at Israel:
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the UN General Assembly Wednesday that his country was under threat of military action from “uncivilized Zionists.”
“Continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality,” he said in the address, his last as president before his second term ends next summer.
Ahmadinejad, in remarks that largely followed the prepared text of the speech lodged with the UN ahead of time, lamented that the major world powers had allied with the devil, and suggested a new world order that would end the “hegemony of arrogance,” bolster human dignity and bring universal happiness.
In contrast to his previous speech on Monday, this time the US boycotted the speech, while Canada walked out – a much more demonstrative act than a simple boycott in my opinion. In even better news, anti-Ahmadinejad activists – including many Iranians – did their best to make life for the Iranian president as uncomfortable as possible while in New York. (h/t cba).
Disgustingly, the British delegation remained seated during Ahmadinejad’s speech:
While U.S. and Israeli delegations skipped Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the United Nations on Wednesday, British officials did attend, and while they were instructed to leave by Prime Minister David Cameron if anything offensive was said by Ahmadinejad, the 3-person British team chose not to leave.
The Palestinian long-unelected “President” Mahmoud Abbas used his speech to slam Israel, as usual. So much for being a peace partner:
PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday launched a scathing attack on the government, accusing it of pursuing a “policy of war, occupation and settlement colonization” and rejecting the two-state solution.
“Israel is promising the Palestinian people a new catastrophe, a new nakba,” the PA president declared.
Abbas began his speech by referring to the “catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country, Palestine.” He claimed that in recent months, “attacks by terrorist militias of Israeli settlers have become a daily reality.”
But the PA continued to believe in negotiations with Israel, he said, and “there is still a chance – maybe the last – to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace.”
Abbas said his renewed statehood bid was not aimed at delegitimizing Israel, “but rather to assert that the state of Palestine must be realized.”
The Palestinians, Abbas told the General Assembly, “are facing relentless waves of attacks against our people, our mosques, churches and monasteries, and our homes and schools; they are unleashing their venom against our trees, fields, crops and properties, and our people have become fixed targets for acts of killing and abuse with the complete collusion of the occupying forces and the Israeli government.”
Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against Arab residents of Jerusalem by demolishing their homes and denying them basic services. He also accused Israel of preventing “millions of Palestinians from freely accessing Jerusalem mosques, churches, schools, hospitals and markets.”
The speech was summed up very well at the end of the JPost article:
Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said Abbas, a Holocaust denier, had delivered a speech that was “the cry of the Cossack who was robbed.”
“It was filled with hatred against Israel and its people. When this is the man who stands in front of us – a liar, a hater and an inciter – the last thing that is needed is to award him with a state,” Dayan said.
The “aleihum” (Arabic for piling-on) on Israel continued with Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi also harshly criticising Israel in his maiden speech to the UN, as well as criticising Syria:
Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York for the first time on Wednesday, calling for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.
Morsi emphasized, however, the “right of all countries of the region to the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the framework of the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].”
Morsi said that Egypt would honor all international agreements that it has signed, although he did not specifically mention the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
On the Palestinian issue, Morsi harshly criticized Israel. He said that the establishment of a Palestinian state should be a top priority for the international community.
“I assure you of Egypt’s full support to any course of action Palestine decides to follow in the United Nations,” Morsi said. “I call upon all of you, just as you have supported the revolutions of the Arab peoples, to lend your support to the Palestinians in their endeavors to regain the full and legitimate rights of a people struggling to gain its freedom and establish its independent state.”
And now to the plum part of all the speeches – Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s eloquent and emotive words.
Netanyahu started with a short history of the Jews’ presence in Israel throughout the millenia, intended as a firm rebuttal of Ahmadinejad’s ridiculous claim that Israel’s presence was but a fleeting aberration in the Middle East.
Three thousand years ago, King David reigned over the Jewish state in our eternal capital, Jerusalem. I say that to all those who proclaim that the Jewish state has no roots in our region and that it will soon disappear.
Throughout our history, the Jewish people have overcome all the tyrants who have sought our destruction. It’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history.
The people of Israel live on. We say in Hebrew Am Yisrael Chai, and the Jewish state will live forever.
The Jewish people have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years. Even after most of our people were exiled from it, Jews continued to live in the land of Israel throughout the ages. The masses of our people never gave up the dreamed of returning to our ancient homeland.
Defying the laws of history, we did just that. We ingathered the exiles, restored our independence and rebuilt our national life. The Jewish people have come home.
We will never be uprooted again.
Netanyahu went on to describe Israel’s social and technological progress and compared it with the regressiveness of Israel’s enemies:
In Israel, we walk the same paths tread by our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But we blaze new trails in science, technology, medicine, agriculture.
In Israel, the past and the future find common ground.
Unfortunately, that is not the case in many other countries. For today, a great battle is being waged between the modern and the medieval.
The forces of modernity seek a bright future in which the rights of all are protected, in which an ever-expanding digital library is available in the palm of every child, in which every life is sacred.
The forces of medievalism seek a world in which women and minorities are subjugated, in which knowledge is suppressed, in which not life but death is glorified.
These forces clash around the globe, but nowhere more starkly than in the Middle East.
Israel stands proudly with the forces of modernity. We protect the rights of all our citizens: men and women, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians – all are equal before the law.
Israel is also making the world a better place: our scientists win Nobel Prizes. Our know-how is in every cell-phone and computer that you’re using. We prevent hunger by irrigating arid lands in Africa and Asia.
And Israel’s exceptional creativity is matched by our people’s remarkable compassion. When disaster strikes anywhere in the world – in Haiti, Japan, India, Turkey Indonesia and elsewhere – Israeli doctors are among the first on the scene, performing life-saving surgeries.
In the past year, I lost both my father and my father-in-law. In the same hospital wards where they were treated, Israeli doctors were treating Palestinian Arabs. In fact, every year, thousands of Arabs from the Palestinian territories and Arabs from throughout the Middle East come to Israel to be treated in Israeli hospitals by Israeli doctors.
I know you’re not going to hear that from speakers around this podium, but that’s the truth. It’s important that you are aware of this truth.
It’s because Israel cherishes life, that Israel cherishes peace and seeks peace.
Netanyahu continued with a rebuke to Mahmoud Abbas for his slanderous lies about Israel:
We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN. That’s not the way to solve it. We won’t solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood.
We have to sit together, negotiate together, and reach a mutual compromise, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the one and only Jewish State.
From this point, Netanyahu built up his case against radical Islam and from there to the crux of his speech – the enormous danger of a nuclearised Iran:
Yet the medieval forces of radical Islam, whom you just saw storming the American embassies throughout the Middle East, they oppose this.
They seek supremacy over all Muslims. They are bent on world conquest. They want to destroy Israel, Europe, America. They want to extinguish freedom. They want to end the modern world.
Militant Islam has many branches – from the rulers of Iran with their Revolutionary Guards to Al Qaeda terrorists to the radical cells lurking in every part of the globe.
But despite their differences, they are all rooted in the same bitter soil of intolerance. That intolerance is directed first at their fellow Muslims, and then to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, secular people, anyone who doesn’t submit to their unforgiving creed.
They want to drag humanity back to an age of unquestioning dogma and unrelenting conflict.
I think the relevant question is this: it’s not whether this fanaticism will be defeated. It’s how many lives will be lost before it’s defeated.
At stake is not merely the future of my own country. At stake is the future of the world. Nothing could imperil our common future more than the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons.
To understand what the world would be like with a nuclear-armed Iran, just imagine the world with a nuclear-armed Al-Qaeda.
It makes no difference whether these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist regime or the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. They’re both fired by the same hatred; they’re both driven by the same lust for violence.
Just look at what the Iranian regime has done up till now, without nuclear weapons.
In 2009, they brutally put down mass protests for democracy in their own country. Today, their henchmen are participating in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians, including thousands of children, directly participating in this murder.
They abetted the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and continue to do so in Afghanistan. Before that, Iranian proxies killed hundreds of American troops in Beirut and in Saudi Arabia. They’ve turned Lebanon and Gaza into terror strongholds, embedding nearly 100,000 missiles and rockets in civilian areas. Thousands of these rockets and missiles have already been fired at Israeli communities by their terrorist proxies.
In the last year, they’ve spread their international terror networks to two dozen countries across five continents – from India and Thailand to Kenya and Bulgaria. They’ve even plotted to blow up a restaurant a few blocks from the White House in order to kill a diplomat.
And of course, Iran’s rulers repeatedly deny the Holocaust and call for Israel’s destruction almost on a daily basis, as they did again this week from the United Nations.
So I ask you, given this record of Iranian aggression without nuclear weapons, just imagine Iranian aggression with nuclear weapons. Imagine their long range missiles tipped with nuclear warheads, their terror networks armed with atomic bombs.
Who among you would feel safe in the Middle East? Who would be safe in Europe? Who would be safe in America? Who would be safe anywhere?
Deterrence worked with the Soviets, because every time the Soviets faced a choice between their ideology and their survival, they chose their survival.
But deterrence may not work with the Iranians once they get nuclear weapons.
There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement.
Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.
That’s not just what they believe. That’s what is actually guiding their policies and their actions.
And here he comes to the very essence of his standpoint on Iran:
I’ve been speaking about the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons for over 15 years.
I spoke about it in my first term in office as Prime Minister, and then I spoke about it when I left office. I spoke about it when it was fashionable, and I spoke about it when it wasn’t fashionable.
I speak about it now because the hour is getting late, very late. I speak about it now because the Iranian nuclear calendar doesn’t take time out for anyone or for anything. I speak about it now because when it comes to the survival of my country, it’s not only my right to speak; it’s my duty to speak. And I believe that this is the duty of every responsible leader who wants to preserve world peace.
For nearly a decade, the international community has tried to stop the Iranian nuclear program with diplomacy.
That hasn’t worked.
Iran uses diplomatic negotiations as a means to buy time to advance its nuclear program.
For over seven years, the international community has tried sanctions with Iran. Under the leadership of President Obama, the international community has passed some of the strongest sanctions to date.
I want to thank the governments represented here that have joined in this effort. It’s had an effect. Oil exports have been curbed and the Iranian economy has been hit hard.
It’s had an effect on the economy, but we must face the truth. Sanctions have not stopped Iran’s nuclear program either.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, during the last year alone, Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges in its underground nuclear facility in Qom.
At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs. That’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war.
In fact, it’s the failure to place red lines that has often invited aggression.
If the Western powers had drawn clear red lines during the 1930s, I believe they would have stopped Nazi aggression and World War II might have been avoided.
At around this point, Netanyahu produced a cartoon-like diagram of a bomb with a red line drawn across it in order to ram the point home about the danger of a nuclear Iran. More about the cartoon further on.
Netanyahu continued in his speech:
Each day, that point is getting closer. That’s why I speak today with such a sense of urgency. And that’s why everyone should have a sense of urgency.
Some who claim that even if Iran completes the enrichment process, even if it crosses that red line that I just drew, our intelligence agencies will know when and where Iran will make the fuse, assemble the bomb, and prepare the warhead.
Look, no one appreciats our intelligence agencies more than the Prime Minister of Israel. All these leading intelligence agencies are superb, including ours. They’ve foiled many attacks. They’ve saved many lives.
But they are not foolproof.
For over two years, our intelligence agencies didn’t know that Iran was building a huge nuclear enrichment plant under a mountain.
Do we want to risk the security of the world on the assumption that we would find in time a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb. The relevant question is at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb.
The red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target.
I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down.
In a diplomatic nod to Obama, Netanyahu stated:
Two days ago, from this podium, President Obama reiterated that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be contained.
I very much appreciate the President’s position as does everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This goal unites the people of Israel. It unites Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike and it is shared by important leaders throughout the world.
What I have said today will help ensure that this common goal is achieved.
Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident that we can chart a path forward together.
Netanyahu concluded with another remark about the favourable attitude of Judaism towards progress and modernity:
The clash between modernity and medievalism need not be a clash between progress and tradition.
The traditions of the Jewish people go back thousands of years. They are the source of our collective values and the foundation of our national strength.
At the same time, the Jewish people have always looked towards the future. Throughout history, we have been at the forefront of efforts to expand liberty, promote equality, and advance human rights.
We champion these principles not despite of our traditions but because of them.
We heed the words of the Jewish prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah to treat all with dignity and compassion, to pursue justice and cherish life and to pray and strive for peace.
These are the timeless values of my people and these are the Jewish people’s greatest gift to mankind.
Let us commit ourselves today to defend these values so that we can defend our freedom and protect our common civilization.
You can read the full text of Netanyahu’s speech at this link.
I thought Netanyahu’s speech was excellent, and once again he touched all the necessary bases. His nod towards Obama was well-placed diplomatically and might help ease the strained relations between Israel and the US. And of course his whole stance regarding the Iranians and their nuclear program was perfectly stated.
My only caveat was the business about the cartoon/diagram. I heard the speech on my car radio, and the Hebrew translator sounded highly amused as he tried to convey what was happening. I must admit I was a bit shocked at Netanyahu’s seeming naivety and thought he might have ruined an excellent speech.
Indeed the cartoon seems to have gone viral (internet-speak for spreading quickly and widely around the web) with much fun being poked at Netanyahu for his artistic effort.
As quick as Road Runner racing through the desert, a small army of photo editing copycats have turned the image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting a cartoon bomb diagram to the United Nations General Assembly into a spoof of the Israeli leader.
Playing on classic Looney Tunes tales imagery, the mocking commentators presented Netanyahu as the bumbling Wile E. Coyote. The simplistic diagram that the prime minister meant as a stark reminder of the impending danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon instead drew comparisons to the bird-brained drawings of the Acme Corporation that never failed to disappoint Wile E. Coyote.
In one image, Netanyahu’s face is blackened by the “bomb” that has blown up in his face — much like the gambit has, at least in the eyes of political opponents back home in Israel.
Still others exchanged the cartoonishly drawn bomb with popular Israeli snack products,
Another commentator noted the irony of Netanyahu spending the first half of his speech remarking on Israeli ingenuity and technology, only to present a paper diagram that most schoolchildren could recreate.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg also thought that Netanyahu’s “Wile. E. Coyote cartoon” was ridiculous and unfortunate:
What I mean by this statement is that Netanyahu took the stage to discuss a deadly serious issue — more serious than a presidential campaign, in fact — and then turned that deadly serious issue into a cartoon. Literally, as Joe Biden would say. This is not a subject fit for cartoonish drawings of bombs. People are laughing at him in places where he can’t afford to be laughed at…
However the Jerusalem Posts’s Herb Keinon does not agree (h/t Mum), saying that Netanyahu was successful in making his point, because today everyone is talking about red lines for Iran:
Some will dismiss the bomb graph as a juvenile gimmick. One blogger unfavorably predisposed to the prime minister, for instance, tweeted, “Oy vey on Netanyahu’s diagram of cartoon-like bomb.” And then again, she wrote, “Netanyahu secret plot to make Iran leaders keel over with laughter? Is he mocking himself?”
No, he was neither mocking himself nor aiming his drawing at the Iranian leaders. Gimmick or not, the chart served one purpose – and it served it successfully – getting people’s attention.
The annual UN General Assembly is a show. Speaker after speaker rises to the podium to give lengthy, dry speeches on their take of the world’s problems. Generally, nobody but the media in the speaker’s own country cares a whit about what their leader said.
Had Netanyahu sufficed with the basic lesson on bomb making that he gave, few would have paid attention. His words on enriched uranium and explosive devices would have been forgotten tomorrow. His chart, and the point his chart was used to illustrate, will be remembered – and that was the purpose of his trip to the US and his speech.
Sky News’ veteran foreign correspondent Tim Marshall also agreed that Netanyahu succeeded in making his point. He tweeted:
I admit I now feel less uneasy about Netanyahu’s gimmick since reading these more positive reviews from experienced and respected journalists, but I hope it doesn’t all backfire on Israel. That would be not only a shame, but potentially extremely dangerous for Israel and the world.